Top ten tips to improve your productivity
I’m not a fan of unproductive days and I’m sure you’re the same!
So I’ve put together a list of ideas that work for me (or that I’m working on implementing!) that can help you to improve your productivity and make the most out of your days.
1. Create a positive work environment
One of the biggest influences on my productivity is my work
environment. When I am surrounded by encouraging people and I am free to express my ideas, I will be more likely to produce good work and get excited about my projects.
It also helps to physically change the appearance of your work area to suit your creative style. As a visual person, I find posters and lots of colours around me help me to think more creatively. If my desk is cluttered an unorganised, it reflects in my work, and I’m left feeling busy and frustrated by the tasks in front of me.
TIP: Have a look at the space you are working in and ask yourself “What do I find exciting, inspiring and encouraging about this space?” “What do I find frustrating, distracting or depressing about this space?” and make some changes!
2. Set a vision
It’s nearly impossible to achieve something without a vision of what you want the end result to be. Before you start a new project, spend some time dreaming and brainstorming the final result so you know what you are aiming for.
TIP: If you’re a visual person like me, it’s a great idea to have a picture of your goal in your office somewhere or on your computer desktop, so that every day you are reminded of the vision of your project.
3. Set smart goals
Once you know the vision for your project, it’s time to break it up into smaller, actionable goals.
Because smaller goals are achievable and easier to achieve, it helps to juggle your workload and continually feel a sense of accomplishment as you work through each goal to your vision. If goals are too big and take a lot of time, it is easy to become discouraged and impatient as you work through them.
Set SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time bound.
Once I’ve set my goals, I find it very helpful to create an outline of what I plan to accomplish each day. If I just work through my goal list, it will feel like an endless to do list – instead, I select a few goals to work on and create a daily or weekly to do list.
TIP: Break your project into actionable goals and weekly or daily to-do lists. If you have other things that need to be done that don’t fit the SMART criteria or rely on other people, add them to a separate list.
4. Set your priorities
While you are setting your goals, you also need to consider which goals have the most priority.
The 80/20 rule (also known as the Pareto Principle) states that 20% of our efforts will produce 80% of our results.
This is not something to be discouraged by, but instead something to consider when setting your priorities for your projects. Consider your vision and think about what parts of it will have the biggest impact in the end results. Then, prioritise your goals according to their impact on the final product. This cuts out a lot of work that is spent on tasks that produce minimal results.
For example, if you are cleaning a house, some rooms will get used far more frequently than others (ie. kitchen compared to the spare bedroom) so most of your attention should be spent cleaning the kitchen (80% of the time spent on 20% of the house). It would make no sense to spend the same amount of time cleaning the spare room. In the same way, when working on your projects, you should give the greatest attention to the things that will make the biggest impact, even if they are only 20% of the whole project.
Think about it this way- if you are planning an event, what would go unnoticed if you ran out of time to work on it (ie. updating the Facebook page)? What would affect the event if you ran out of time (ie. booking flights for speakers)?
I’ve made the mistake myself of leaving things to the last minute that should have been a bigger priority over other tasks that I was working on because I thought they would take more time.
TIP: Base your priorities on the end results, not the effort involved. Distribute your workload accordingly.
5. Make a schedule
Making a schedule helps to give you a realistic idea of how and when you can achieve your goals and priorities.
Think about how long each task will take and build a timeline for the whole project. Then you can work on making daily schedules to help you achieve your tasks.
By setting a time limit on each task before you begin, you can get a realistic idea of whether you are ahead or behind in achieving your goals by the end of the project. Otherwise you risk spending all day on one task, while neglecting the others,
TIP: Create a clear schedule of times for each tasks and stick to it
6. Keep your time frame short
Parkinson’s Law states that work will expand to fill the time given to it.
I find this to be all too true for me- if I’m given a month to work on a project, I spend a lot more time dreaming and getting inspired and over-analyzing the project, meaning that I lose focus easily and find it hard to get the work done by the deadline. Give me a week to do the same thing, and I will still do a great job- but I will be more focused and won’t get distracted with ideas that I don’t intend to use anyway.
This is where your schedules and tasks are incredibly important. If you have small goals to achieve in smaller amounts of time, you will be much more aware of the magnitude of the whole project and will make better use of your time.
TIP: When you are given a longer deadline, don’t use this time to relax and slowly make progress. Instead, plan your time so that you have specific goals and make use of every extra moment. When used efficiently, this extra time will be a blessing rather than a distraction!
7. Stop multitasking
I love to multitask… however I’ll admit it is probably one of the biggest killers of my productivity.
I start my day with 10 things on my to do list… as I work through the day, I work on each task… all at once. By the end of the day, I look at my list, and I’ve achieved maybe one thing. The rest never passed the “research” stage or were never completed. Not because I wasn’t working, but because I lost so much time and effort switching between tasks and getting distracted. Sound familiar?
Multitasking is an easy way to justify procrastinating your more difficult tasks to work on other things, even if they are a lower priority. I’ll admit… I still do this too often! If you concentrate 100% on a task and don’t get distracted by your other tasks, you allow your mind to focus on the task at hand and will get the job done quicker and more effectively.
TIP: Stick to your daily schedule and avoid working on multiple tasks at once.
8. Minimize distractions
Some distractions can’t be avoided (like being pulled out of your work for a meeting) however there are some daily things that you can work around to stop them distracting you…
Emails – Definitely one of my big distractions. While some emails are urgent, most of them can wait. So instead of replying to every email as soon as it hits your inbox, set aside some time in your schedule each day that you can use to reply to emails. Rather than seeing each email as a separate item on your to do list, consider emails as a project of its own. This will allow you to give proper attention to each email, without getting distracted from your projects.
Ideas – Ideas can often come at the most inconvenient times… and usually when you are working on a difficult project that you would like to get away from. Instead of running with these ideas and getting distracted, write a quick note for yourself and file them away (I find it good to have a notepad specifically for this) so that you can look into those ideas later and free up your mind to focus on your current tasks. RESIST the urge to brainstorm ideas and start researching now… Keep working on your current tasks first!
Things out of your control – There’s no point wasting time thinking about things you have no control over- like waiting for phone calls from others or waiting for an email response. Rather than checking your emails or watching the phone, keep these items on a list separate to your to do list (like a “follow up” list) so that you aren’t focusing on them. Work on what you can without them, and when you hear back, you can add them to your list again.
The Internet – There’s so much creative inspiration, interesting articles and other things on the internet- if you plan to do some research or look up some information, be very careful to stay on task and not get distracted by other things you find along the way. Whenever I’m looking for creative inspiration, if I come across a cool poster or artwork that I love but that isn’t relevant for my current project, I bookmark it in a “check later” folder.
TIP: Make a note of the things that you spend a lot of time doing outside your to do list. Think about ways to cut back or allocate time for these tasks so that they don’t become a distraction.
9. Delegate tasks
Delegating tasks to others is an important part of working on a project. You can’t do everything yourself. If you’ve tried, you’ll know the feeling of being overwhelmed and overworked. Delegating is a great way to get others excited about your project and to build a strong team.
People won’t step up in their skills if they aren’t given a chance to. While someone may not be as creative or experienced as you are, you can’t do everything, so it’s great to give them a chance to step up and take responsibilty for elements of your project.The more opportunity you give them to take on projects, the more their skills will grow and the more you will be able to delegate to them in the future.
TIP: Tasks are not really delegated if you are still making every decision and showing them how to do it. Give others a chance to be creative and follow their own style. If you are spending more time teaching and leading them than doing the task yourself, you’ve missed the point.
10. The rest is up to you…
Ultimately, if you are committed to seeing your project come to pass and you are willing to put in the work, you will make it. As long as you implement the steps above, there’s no reason why you should miss your deadline or compromise on quality. If you’re not passionate about what you do, it’s going to take a lot more grunt to get it done. So I encourage you to get inspired and excited about the projects you are working on, and find some ways to make it new and fresh for you!
What are some other things that you’ve found help you to be productive? What are some things that you’ve found DON’T work for you? Please share!